2.02: Anima-tor. Entry
space overview showing
multitudes of circulation.
2.01: Subway passengers in at Hakusan Station in Tokyo, Japan.
RESEARCH AND ARGUMENT
ALTERING A SPECTATORS STATE OF MIND
To alter state of mind, the most universal access is a change in the normal environment a person exists in. In current society this change often manifests itself in the non-physical, in fictive literature or media, meant to remove the ordinary stress and let the spectator float in a dream. Transferring this fictitious environment into a physical space would greatly challenge not only the mind, but also the body in understanding how to navigate the non-ordinary and adjust to situations previously unknown. The Site of Reversible Destiny by Arakawa and Gins challenges the human body in hopes of losing our balance and becoming like infants once again. [2.03] To Arakawa the loss of balance indicates a loss of common sense and a remainder of only the five senses, which allows for a state of ‘simple sensation’ and lets the individual access a timeless space of mind. [2.04] Further, Arakawa argues that through the eyes of simple sensation one is able to see the true color of the world and a different representation of oneself. The incredible park created by Arakawa and Gins features physical obstacles, which motivate the spectator to interact with them, either by physically walking through them, climbing on top of them and at times tripping, slipping and falling. In the logic of the philosophical Architects, Arakawa and Gins argue: “Terrains, which unlike floors are full of the unexpected, force the body to be continually taking its own measure. No floors should be less than a terrain or all floors must become terrains!”. [2.05] Having an environment where the body has to constantly readjust naturally keeps the mind on its feet, thinking about the next step and thereby obscuring normal thought patterns. By obscuring these natural thought patterns, the mind is able to be in a pure state and think in a limited capacity, mostly focusing on the moment at hand.
2.06: Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. 2018.
The artist group Hyslom, made up of Itaru Kato, Fuminori Hoshiro and Yuu Yoshida, has focused their entire careers on this purity of thought, allowing themselves to experience the environment only through the physicality of their bodies. [2.07] On the site of a massive housing land development the group is documenting their bodily interaction through sculpture, performance and reenactment of living organisms encountered during their research. [2.08] In their approach all the work being performed is temporary as the site will eventually be covered with housing units. The group has produced a series of documentations of hysteresis, a term which governs the work of Hyslom and refers to the attempt of balancing one’s bodily state of being with that of the surrounding environment, in an act of catching up to forgotten change. In the first volume the trio approaches a large pile of scrap wood, attempting to remove the upper most branch with the help of a cord. In the nude, two members repeatedly tug on the rope until the branch is removed and their goal is achieved. [2.09] In the action of removing the branch from the top of the pile of debris Hyslom is allowing themselves true connection with the environment, needing to understand their surroundings, the branch, and what is keeping it locked in place in order to finally removed it. Similar to Arakawa and Gins, Hyslom strives to achieve a purity in physicality in order to experience truth in thought. The strangeness, simplicity and dedication to the subject matter allows them authenticity in action and value in experience.
2.10: Documentation of Hysteresis vol. 01, dohysteresis, YouTube.
Hyslom captures their experiments of hysteresis in the framework of an artistic work presented in the space of a gallery, Arakawa and Gins present their work as the embodiment of a park intended as a place of leisure, but in order to break the comfort of these established spaces the work must also put into question the state of the place in which it is being presented. Olafur Eliasson is known for his attempts in interweaving body and room, and in this way creating an interface between site and subject, ultimately leading to an emergent property of both. [2.11] Simply put, he would like the viewer to see themselves seeing, leading to a questioning of one’s own state within the totality of the presented exhibit. [2.12] Following this concept, many of his exhibits feature simple to understand mechanisms, initially provoking an agency and wonder in the viewer and upon further analysis leading to the discovery of the functioning and mechanisms behind the installation.[2.13] Eliasson argues that this shared sense of agency, wonder and discovery leads to collective action between the viewers and therefore his exhibition functions as a model of civic space, reconsidering the normal notion thereof. [2.14] In this sense, his idea is directly based off of Miwon Kwon’s perception of a public sphere, where one’s private and personal interests are momentarily bracketed to establish a collective identification. [2.15] Whilst the validity of visitor agency through wonder is proven without a doubt, captured by photographs of several different installations, the collective action insinuated by the installation at hand is often times intermittent at best, resulting usually in small established groups participating in foreseen activity. Also, while Eliasson argues that his exhibitions create a new public sphere, in reality many of his projects are trapped within institutions requiring a certain stipulation upon entrance. His work hereby only appeals in its profound simplicity, leading to a provocation of self-reflection in the individual or group regarding it, when this group or individual has made the conscious effort to travel to an exhibit and pay the price of entry. Due to these requirements in seeing the Eliasson’s work, a large amount of meaning is lost. It is obvious that his work would have a higher influence on society and on the public sphere, if it was actually located within the normal definition of public space, rather than attempting to requalify what is culturally defined as such. If this was the case, visitors would actually see the piece of artwork without any preconceived notion and be surprised simply by the existence of it. Hereby the individual now confronted with the installation, can do nothing but act out of surprise as it is a situation one cannot prepare for, one of surprise and natural response. Having Eliasson’s projects placed within the established definition of public space would elicit the reactions of wonder and agency, to an extent even greater than they currently do. Further, if the projects are placed in a space of continuous movement, undefined programming and random user group, it has the potential of not only being a surprise to the purposeful viewer, but to an unexpecting average of a chosen place, exponentially increasing the reflective and personal value gained by the individual and society as a whole.
2.03 - 2.05, 2.07 - 2.09, 2.11 - 2.15: View bibliography here.
2.16: Studio Olafur Eliasson, Beauty, 1993.
ENTRANCE STIPULATIONS FOR UNORDINARY SPACES
Recreating a genuine space to relieve the ordinary and encourage truth in experience, requires an unavoidable instance of change upon entry to physically prepare the visitor and another mental stimulation to free the individuals thought and speech patterns. Simply put, the first instance must lead to spectator agency, an action due to a surprising occurrence, and the second should provoke a sense of wonder, making the individual question their current state of being in relation to the abnormal event. Through evoking a sensory discomfort, the body is thrown off balance and required to recalculate its current state. In this manner, the space to relieve the ordinary should function similarly to Foucault’s idea of a heterotopia. It exists in an in-between space, being real in its physicality but requiring a ‘system of opening and closing,’ allowing it to be both ‘isolated and penetrable’. [2.17] Through physical imbalance the individual begins to feel uncertain about one’s bodily movement, causing self-questioning, through further discomfort one’s confidence begins to recede and begins to bring forward a sense of vulnerability, allowing the questioning of culturally ingrained habits. This feeling of vulnerability neutralizes the ego and one’s preconceived notions, leaving the individual in a mindset receptive to change. At this instance the gradient of entry has ended, and different kinds of mental stimulation are triggered to activate the full capacity of the mind. The curiosity of the visitor must be won to keep the mind exploring and wondering about the situation. In the search for meaning a certain playfulness should be apparent to maintain intrigue in the process. If the person within the relief space does not enjoy themselves, a continued stimulation of the mind will be near impossible. At last, the overall experience must be pleasurable to relax the mind in its state of being, feeling free of ordinary worries and desires and completely submitted to the task at hand. Maintaining pleasure, in this case refers to the break from ordinary routine and regularity, offering for an instance an unforeseen challenge of the mind, allowing natural intension and wonder to penetrate a space of the mind, which before laid stagnant. Through a stimulation process like the one mentioned above the body and mind can achieve a comfortable balance and act out of pure desire and personal interest, rather than exterior influences or confusions. Not only will this allow the body relief from the exterior, but also allow it new possibilities of honest thought and expression.
2.18: Kisho Kurokawa, Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo, Japan. 1972. ArchDaily.
Spaces of meaning are created by an emotional and sensual trigger in the individual, requiring the questioning of the current state of being, thereby encouraging a destabilization of established comfort and worldview. The creation of these spaces is no mistake and has been attempted to varying success by a variety of projects and designers, for example such as Arakawa and Gins, Hyslom, and Olafur Eliasson. What all these projects have in common is an attempt to disfigure the ordinary, and to make the observer either discover a new reality or a new form of self. Fundamentally, these established spaces need to be of a new program, circulation and function, leading to discoveries of new truths or facts before hidden. Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting in Notes around the Doppler Effect and other Moods of Modernism discuss the importance of architecture as a performance, and the differences in effectiveness between literal and suggestive performances, as demonstrated by their comparison between the acting performances of Robert Mitchum and Robert De Niro. [2.19] The first is cool, easy and never looks like work, but the second is hot, difficult and indexes the processes of its production. [2.20] More importantly, as the latter requires a subject that is only a reader, that subject is only responsible for deciphering the encoded message of the performer. This narrows the possible readings and fails to engage the individual as a creative participant in interpreting the work. The former approach, meanwhile, acknowledges the subject as a creative and imaginative interpreter—affording them a degree of agency. The point is to move away from established architecture, which represents the designer as a god-like intelligence implementing the correct solution to the issue at hand. Instead architecture should function as an experience and experiment, showing the audience the rigor of the physicality in construction and allowing them to be encapsulated within the performance of its meaning. This strategy of information transmittal is of singular importance in contemporary design, as each individual is prompted to interpret personal meaning and understanding from the performance. As Kisho Kurokawa puts it: “In each person’s brain there is an independent environment, a world, a language, props and a stage, and every day a grand drama unfolds there, directed by thought and intellect.” [2.21] Giving each person the freedom to materialize meaning independently, catalyzes an explosion of unique thought and intellect stimulating new patterns in the brain and allowing for true freedom in opinion. Spaces promoting this catalyzation inherently allow for an in-between, a space left for the people’s freedom, void of distinct function and instead allowing programming by the immediate agent of interaction.
2.17, 2.19 - 2.21: View bibliography here.
THE VISITOR AS THE PERFORMER, ENTANGLED WITHIN THE DESIGN
The Fun Palace by Cedric Price and Le Fresnoy National Studio for Contemporary Arts by Bernard Tschumi are two projects focusing on the individual as the guide of the architecture, the experience and the intelligence gained from the project. Tschumi speaks about the multifunctional spaces at the Arts University as “architecture-event” rather than “architecture-object”, functioning as places for fantasies and experiments (filming and other exploratory works on space and time). [2.22] Joan Littlewood, the instigator behind the idea of the Fun Palace, wished to create a space to “awaken the passive subjects of mass culture to a new consciousness,” [2.23] which Cedric Price envisioned as an environment continually interacting and responding to people. [2.24] This was envisioned as a place where the individuals could experience the transcendence and transformation of theatre, not as audience, but as players and active participants in the drama. [2.25] A commonality these projects share is the allotment of freely programmable, movable and reconfigurable space, basically a space without distinct meaning or function. In the Fun Palace this space completes the entirety of the project, creating different areas for freedom of activity in a theatrical setting, letting the individual be the actor in their own performance. It is undebatable the project was an initially revolutionary idea, disturbing the established nature of Architects and their designs, but it does not come without shortcomings. Even though the fun palace was intended for freedom in creativity, its overprogrammed design allows only for certain activities within specific spaces, instead of encouraging unpredicted, varying and creative activity dependent on the visitor. Whilst it establishes a framework for theatre related activity, it ironically constrains the performer to a large extent. The shortcomings lay in the tightening of activity restrictions, instead of loosening of creative boundaries.
2.26: The Fun Palace, Cedric Price. MoMA, NYC.
The Arts University lets this space hover above the functionalities of the other parts of the building, it literally functions as an in-between space, or what would commonly be referred to as circulation space. The enthralling characteristic about this area is that it is free of design aesthetics, and instead functions as an intermittent space featuring an overallotment of circulatory freedom. While this allows for random interactions, unscripted activity and functionless use there exists a high chance in the majority of its utilization being related to travel through the space not to the space of in-between. Meaning the in-between space, which functions as an unprogrammed space to encourage random and unplanned activity is missing the ingredient to make passers-by think twice or recalculate or in some way suspicious of their current state and actually interact with the place of the in-between. Adding this curiosity, this item of wonder, this touch of design (besides the design of movement) will make the average passer-by, imbalanced, forced to recalculate and thereby a subject and performer of the in-between; activating its existence.
The Fun Palace functions differently, having its only use be to create the ‘scaffold or framework, enclosing a socially interactive machine’. [2.27] In this sense the project has no material purpose in a world composed of material wants and needs. A person would visit this project to complete an activity, where they themselves were unsure of its meaning and productivity. Tschumi purposely created a space, which instead functions as a confusion of existing activities and thereby creates a new activity, to find meaning once it becomes physical action. Even though both projects seem to take a generous step towards a place of individual freedom and discovery, neither performs a complete recognition of the needs of the individual. It becomes clear that an in-between space to increase self-awareness and allow freedom in expression and discovery must walk a line, which does not exist and is unknown to the common designer. It must not only create a new kind of space, but most importantly understand the individual body to transform it into a state of new being without the awareness of the user becoming suspicious or tempted to abort the action. The place for relief from the ordinary therefore becomes a place of mentally random, yet physically controlled interaction, required to pull the exterior spectator for a specific purpose and task to be completed with a sense of pleasure and intrigue. Other than the projects by Price and Tschumi, the resulting knowledge gathered by the individuals cannot be controlled, rather the focus of the project must be on gripping the user’s attention and physically altering their state of being to allow for personally controlled mental freedom for change in established perception.
2.22 - 2.25, 2.27: View bibliography here.
2.28: Le Fresnoy Arts Center, Bernard Tschumi Architects. 1997.
MANIFESTATION OF THE IDEA AND ISSUE OF THE LOCATION
Arakawa and Gins, Hyslom, Eliasson, Price, Kurokawa and Tschumi all seek to create meaning through strategies of entangling the observer within the work being presented, thereby recalculating the ordinary experience we are used to, but almost entirely restricting these experiences to places of planned visitation, hereby rendering them inaccessible to many and perhaps only useful to those having already considered the issues at hand. Criticizing the previously mentioned artists, architects and designers is no difficult task, as most of their work is based in simple human activity and action, quickly to be denied by a closed state of mind. When Arakawa died in 2010, at the age of 73, journalists were more than excited to call him out for having failed his life’s mission of defying death. Fred Bernstein very cleverly titled his article for the New York Times: “Arakawa, Whose Art Tried to Halt Aging, Dies at 73” [2.29] and Jeff Zalesin came up with an equally intellectually stimulating title for the Daily News of: “Arakawa, Reversible Destiny artist who claimed to defy death, dies at 73 in New York,” [2.30] most embarrassingly this later article is tagged under the health section of the newspaper. While these titles of course are exceptions, and perhaps to be interpreted as bad humor, they point out an unavoidable problem when it comes to the work of Arakawa and Gins and leads to a questioning of design philosophies when considering the topic of art and design to provoke viewer agency. Most critics of Arakawa and Gins will agree that Arakawa’s statement of defying death was not necessarily meant literally, but figuratively, to be understood from the perspective of mental interpretation and the freeing of trapped thought. Similarly to when Arakawa proclaimed that Neil Armstrong would enjoy walking through the Bioscleave House in East Hampton more than walking on the moon, as Zalesin points out in his attempt to frame Arakawa as a complete madman. [2.31] It is imperative to understand their work as a means to provoke the ordinary, to reinterpret normal, and thereby thrust the visitor into a new space of mind, often times communicated with humor and extreme fallacies.
2.32: Arakawa and Gins. Dimitris Yeros. Office 124. NYC. 2000.
Olafur Eliasson, too, is often times criticized for the lack of depth in his work, and decline of meaning throughout his career, or a thinning out of intellect. [2.33] His work in its definition is often times minimalistic, creating a grand effect with understandable and discoverable means. One of his most famous pieces Beauty, composed of only mist and light refraction creates a rainbow, observed differently by every visitor. [2.34] Upon further moving around it is easy to discover the water nozzles, hose, and light creating this effect. To an art critique, analyzing this work through the considerations of traditional painting and sculpture it would seem close to meaningless, but only when the visitor discoveries the piece for themselves does it take on personal meaning and provoke the urge for discovery. Through this lens it is no surprise the artwork of Eliasson loses its meaning through time, the power of the simplicity is eventually grasped and once many of his exhibits are experienced and his strategy is clearly revealed it is difficult to push for collecting new understandings, but perhaps only possible to experience them differently. An advantage of this is, that due to the simple material nature and often times context independent installations, these are able to travel to many different destinations, in order to be regarded by a large amount of people, all possessing different world views and independent minds. The downfall, although, once spread across the world is that for a large majority of his projects the entrance stipulation of the museum still exists and it therefore never becomes a public good, or new public sphere as Olafur Eliasson claims about his projects.
2.35: Olafur Eliasson Studios, Beauty. 1993.
A transformation of the exhibition space to a location of public movement and varied visitor flow would allow projects to provoke human agency and thought in a non-biased and barrier free setting, promoting its message beyond the closed setting of the museum. Qualifying this public space is no easy task, as ordinary public spaces are shifting in function and use due to an efficiency focused society. Not everyone regularly visits a park, a museum or another place of leisure and self-development, therefore those locations inhibit certain types of audiences from experiencing the artwork and thereby the personal development. The new location should be one through which a large amount of visitor’s flow, one that a variety of people of different cultures and backgrounds use and one that is not strictly defined in its use, meaning that visitors are either using the space for a different reason or are surprised by the instance of an unpredictable event. These characteristics will encourage a large visitor base, without preconceived notion or at minimum a variety of biases, which react to the intervention instinctively, not by means of preparation. Along these lines, the expected result yields an instinctive action to a surprise occurrence, provoking some agency in the subject confronted with the intervention, resulting in an honest reaction and strategy of rebalancing. Hereby the minimalist intervention will go unnoticed unless interacted with, and even if it is interacted with it will result in a confusion by the victim of its interaction, to be considered and understood in moments of reflection. In short, the intervention seeks to influence as large and diverse of an audience as possible and shake an individual from their routine if even for just an instant. It makes no effort to stand out and attempts to influence only the person interaction with it and the people in close surroundings that either notice it or are in some way affected by it. With these strategies the intervention creates a short pause in time, to alter a routine in even the most minor of ways, having the potential to recalibrate the individual’s routine or be forever forgotten.
2.29 - 2.31, 2.33 - 2.34: View bibliography here.
THE INTERVENTION: TO INTERRUPT, INTRIGUE AND RECALCULATE
The physical representation of the intervention, like the location, must possess some form of stealth, to not give away its meaning immediately and not be blatantly obvious upon approach. The interacting object in some way must conform to its surroundings, to not stand out too much, but become noticed mainly when personally interacting with it. Similar to the location, this is important to have the agent of the intervention act individually, without preparation from their surroundings and once interacted with it does not make everyone stop, but instead a single person, or small group of people, directly influenced by it. The action of the intervention is sealed within the context of its place and functions only when called upon. Its stealth is hidden within the normal use, becoming apparent when this normal use malfunctions and falls out of the ordinary. An example of this could be a floor board that is lose, but not only is it lose and makes the agent interacting with it loose balance or have to recalibrate, perhaps it makes another floor board rise and fall when stepped on, hereby influencing another unknowing visitor if they are in the right place at the right time. The person stepping on the lose floorboard is now isolated, having experienced something strange, which perhaps no one else noticed, or was only noticed by the person on the other moving floor board. This might create a brief and awkward connection, or an attempt to ignore the incident, but in either sense it puts into question the occurrence and yields a recalibration, a rebalancing and a reflecting on why the event took place. The user is pulled from their monotonous regular routine and forced to act to rebalance and continue the normal journey. In this moment the user has gained an unordinary experience to put into question a regular state of being, perhaps making them more aware at the next interaction with this space or interpret it more carefully in the future.
2.36: Anima-tor Abstract. Cast rockite physical model overlayed with images from design experiments.